Friday 2nd June Toktogul to Arslanbob,
Saturday 3 June Arslanbob to Ferghana via Osh
Upon arrival at Arslanbob, where we were staying at a home of an Uzbek family, we explored the village which was situated in one of the largest walnut forests in the world, we watched as bakers took out round sesame covered loaves of bread from a tandoor styled oven. After buying a few provisions, we heard the call to prayer echoing throughout the valley and the shop was promptly shut and the young boys who ran the shop and spoke excellent English hurried off to Friday evening prayers.
This is the furthest Alexander the Great went during his many campaigns. He also is reputed to have bought the walnuts from Arslanbob back to Macedonia.
The home stay evening meal involved a traditional meal of soup and beef and tomato and cucumber and chilli salad, tea, apples, honey, biscuits, Plov a rice dish and piece of meat and bread, all taken while sitting on cushions on a raised platform at a very low table which you put your bare feet – no shoes are allowed inside. A little like going Japanese really. Our room had traditional bedding and furniture and the bathroom was outside. Needless to say, after a very long and arduous day driving over some atrocious unmade roads, through countless herds of horses, (this area is famous for its horses), sheep, goats and cattle, fording little streams as well as contending with massive lorries belching noxious fumes, we had an early night.
During the day’s drive we drove through more mountainous landscapes covered with jagged rocks and towering conifer forests as well as skirting two massive reservoirs from Toktogul to reach our homestay.
On Saturday morning, instead of driving down from our home stay at a lovely Uzbek Muslim family’s home I walked down the outrageously rocky track…it helped lighten the car so its underside wouldn’t hit the rocks and potholes. So far Shamrock has been doing so well. We had to do some adjustments to the exhaust system after the car sustained a few direct hits and bottoming out on some of the roads recently. I am still doing a little of the driving but when it has come to the kms of unmade rocky tracks, Peter has done a wonderful job of nursing Shamrock over the many kms of tracks and potholed roads. The pot holes are huge and require everyone to drive slowly and some times on the other side of the road!
On our way to the border we stopped at Osh, a 3000 year old town with many crumbling fortresses and tombs of long gone rulers, where many Muslim make a pilgrimage too. We stopped near the mosque and enjoyed a relaxing picnic lunch under the trees.
Saturday also took us across the border of Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan which took about 3 ½ hours included the cars being X-rayed and our luggage being scrumptiously examined. By the end of this we were hot and very tired. But the officials were friendly and interested in having their photos taken in the cars and even taking one for a spin through no-man’s land.
We noticed an immediate change in the economic landscape and infrastructure when we crossed the border. The roads in Kyrgyzstan were indescribably bad or non-existent whilst the roads here were marginally better. As we drove towards Ferghana the pot holes were at least filled in, causing the car to bounce over the bumps, the housing was more intact but still everywhere you looked unfinished buildings were evident. The roads had guttering
and flowers and grapes vines grew up to the roadside. Another noticeable thing is the friendliness and interest of people as we drove along. This has been evident through out the Stans. Some even tried to hand us cherries and apricots into the car while we were driving. People waved, tooted and took photos or videos of the cars, all while they are driving very close to us. There are still many old Soviet buildings but the people are now building more interesting and modern housing and starting to re-establish their Uzbek identity.